Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Refreshed art space resets its approach



Refreshed art space resets its approach

Khchao Touch, artist and sculptor, with one of her finely detailed works at Lotus Gallery.
Khchao Touch, artist and sculptor, with one of her finely detailed works at Lotus Gallery. Athena Zelandonii

Refreshed art space resets its approach

The recently reopened Lotus Gallery, located on Battambang’s Street 2.5 near Phsar Nath Market, doesn’t look much different from the space that owner Darren Swallow temporarily closed six months ago.

The three-storey converted shophouse still has an airy feel and plenty of wall space, but there’s been a shift in concept, he says – one that could be indicative of fracturing support for and from the independent arts community in Battambang, once considered to be Cambodia’s cultural capital.

To start, there’s no plan for regularly rotating exhibitions.

“Before, it was quite difficult to keep up the quality of the work,” he says. “What tends to happen [in Battambang] is you get one or two good pieces and then some filler. And there are only a few artists I know who can fill an exhibition with good-quality work. So for now, I’ll focus on quality over quantity.”

For the first long-term exhibition, which opened last month with the gallery itself, the curator has chosen a couple of pieces by British artist Nicolas Grey and a handful by Swallow’s wife, the painter and sculptor Khchao Touch, who was born in Battambang and trained and later taught at Phare Ponleu Selpak.

Most of her works are incredibly detailed: earlier oil paintings on display feature tiny strokes made with a bamboo tip; her intricate watercolours focus on exploring the natural elements and female forms. Touch is inspired by flowers in particular, and some of her more minimalist works resemble a Khmer take on American artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

“They stand in the sun all day, and then they die in the ground,” Touch says. “I do my paintings to remind myself to try to find the freedom to be alive. I want my daughter to be free like that.”

For a few years, Touch – once labelled one of Cambodia’s “leading women artists” – has been on something of a hiatus. Much of her work completed over the past year has emerged from the family’s experience with the couple’s daughter, who was receiving medical treatment in Bangkok. Touch is bright-eyed, and asks a lot of questions – many of which end up as titles for her works (Where Are We Going?, for example, a family portrait).

Touch’s early paintings feature abstract natural forms.
Touch’s early paintings feature abstract natural forms. Athena Zelandonii

Before stepping out of Battambang, Swallow was a co-founder of Sammaki Gallery, which closed in March after nearly five years. (He opened Lotus Gallery as a “small, funky arts venue” in 2013.) Sammaki was a bold experiment in an uncertain field: a space that after last year operated with no private funding, and where sometimes inexperienced artists took full creative control of their exhibitions.

“Once I had to leave for Bangkok, nobody tried to find funds or anything. Once the money ran out, they had to close,” Swallow says. “The idea was always that artists would take the initiative, find funding and run it as their own space – it never really happened.”

That’s not to say the community is in decline. Two shining spots include Sangker Gallery, which – unlike Sammaki – is privately funded, and the Romcheik 5 gallery, which displays the works of the eponymous collective whose members live in an artists’ commune outside town and produce a prodigious amount of original work.

But for now, Lotus Gallery will stick to its slow approach, as well as a café downstairs focused on health and vitality. “It’s something different for Battambang anyway,” Swallow says.

Upstairs in the gallery, Touch pulls out a piece she’s been working on for two months. It features a grand flower, tendrils carefully sketched out in every direction.

“When I paint this painting, I don’t know when to finish,” she says, laughing. “It needs a little bit of blue. With blue, there is freedom. I need to find a little bit of freedom in here.”

Lotus Gallery is located at #53 Street 2.5 in Battambang.

MOST VIEWED

  • Time to avert disastrous Covid situation: officials

    The Covid-19 situation in Cambodia is heading towards further large-scale community transmission as the total number of confirmed cases is nearing 61,000 and the death toll passed 900 on July 10, senior health officials warned. Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine expressed concern that the country was going

  • Two luxury hotels latest quarantine options for inbound travellers

    The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 has designated two luxury hotels as alternative quarantine options for travellers who wish to enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport – Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel & Residence and the Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh. In a notice detailing guidelines issued

  • Visa A holders get to quarantine at Himawari Hotel

    The Ministry of Health has permitted foreign diplomats, UN and International NGO officials to undergo quarantine at Himawari Hotel in the capital in case they do not have a separate place suitable for this purpose, but the government would not be responsible for the expenses.

  • Baby saved as mother is lost to Covid

    Newborn baby Neth David has had a rough start in the world. His mother, Vong Daneth, was seven months pregnant when she contracted a severe case of Covid-19. When it became clear to her doctors that she would not survive, they performed a cesarean section

  • Jabs for kids bring hope for school reopenings

    Cambodia is tentatively planning to reopen schools – at least at the secondary level – when the vaccination of children aged 12-17 is completed, even though daily transmissions and deaths in other age groups remain high. Schools across the country have been suspended since March 20, one month

  • Hun Sen: Get 12-17 age group ready for Covid jabs

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has told parents of children aged 12-17 in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kandal and Preah Sihanouk to get them ready for vaccinations soon. “There is a need to vaccinate children and youths aged 12 to 17. According to the statistics provided